Melba Recordings

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The Art of Nance Grant

Musicweb International (UK)
Robert J Farr

I have sat on this issue for longer than I should. It presented a singer who I had not heard before and yet who has distinctive vocal qualities of a very high order. I have been listening to recordings and live operatic performances since the 1950s. I was aware of the emergence and furore surrounding Joan Sutherland in Covent Garden’s 1958 Lucia and, a few years later, Kiri Te Kanawa’s Countess in Mozart’s Figaro. I was privileged to hear both live in the theatre. There I give the clue that also comes with the issuing label, Melba, associated as it is with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as well as the famous singer.  

The introduction to this collection mentions the distinguished contribution that various Antipodean singers have made to opera performance and recording in Britain. Particular mention is made of Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa, Yvonne Kenny, Yvonne Minton and more recently Cheryl Barker. A similar distinguished list of male singers could be assembled. How, I wondered, could this lady be associated with those others yet I had not heard of her. I immediately recognised the quality of her vocal talent which is so well represented in this double CD collection. A little of the story is contained in the introductory essays. Nance Grant won major competitions in the late 1950s making her gentle way via broadcasts and recitals in the following decade to include televised operatic performances. It was a period when she raised her family.  

All was to change for her when Edward Downes took up the position of Musical Director of Australian Opera in 1972. Recognising her talent he immediately offered Grant a contract as a full-time principal with the company. In the decade that followed, with the conductor casting her with care, her career took off in a big way. Downes tried to persuade her to pursue a career in Europe confidently telling her that he could fill her diary with ease. However, she was happy on home territory and able to fulfil her family responsibilities to the full alongside her burgeoning career. She tackled a wide variety of roles included here as well as Sieglinde and Gutrune under Sir Charles Mackerras. 

Grant’s wide tonal variety is on show here, as is her capacity to inflect phrases, express meaning and create a characterisation. She is notable in the Grieg and Strauss items on CD1 as well as in the operatic items. Her ability to encompass a diversity of operatic genres is exemplified by the heroic rendition of Fidelio. Her Leonore is followed by her Elisabeth from Maria Stuarda and then Wagner’s Elisabeth singing Dich, teure Halle from Tannhäuser (CD2 trs3-5).

This collection is taken from tapes and one has to be grateful for their emergence. 

This double CD is presented in booklet form. There are no words or translations. It is but an introduction to Nance Grant. Her repertoire also included Donna Anna from Don Giovanni, Lady Billows from Albert Herring, Alice Ford from Verdi’s Falstaff, Senta from The Flying Dutchman, Amelia from Un Ballo in Maschera and the Marschallin from Der Rosenkavalier. Riches indeed. Her work was recognised by the award of the MBE and Order of Australia.